How much do you make? Salary disclosures could boost what you earn

Denitsa Tsekova

For decades, discussing your salary with colleagues or friends was a major no-no. But now young adults are breaking this taboo more often, reducing the upper hand that employers once had in compensation negotiations.

About 1 in 4 gen Zers and millennials know what their co-workers earn, according to a recent survey by STASH, a financial technology company. That’s more than 1 in 5 for Gen X and 1 in 8 for baby boomers.

These younger adults are also more likely to share their income with their friends than previous generations, the survey found. Half of gen Zers and 43% of millennials know their peers’ salaries, versus just 30% for gen X and 19% for boomers.

Gil Hirak (R), head of US operations and community of Quarters speaks with colleagues in the community living area of Quarters Co-Living in the Lower East Side on July 24, 2019 in New York City. - Nandita Iyer landed in New York from Bombay without knowing anyone, but she didn't want to live alone in a "sketchy studio." So instead she opted for a room in a "coliving" unit. She lives with roommates in one of the 14 apartments in a small building run by the housing start-up Quarters in the trendy Lower East Side neighborhood. The best part of the arrangement, she said, are the common areas: a large kitchen with a big table and comfy couches, a terrace where she can work and a luxurious rooftop patio. "I met people from such different backgrounds. And I became very good friends with them," she said. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
About 1 in 4 gen Zers and millennials know what their coworkers earn, compared with 1 in 5 for gen X and 1 in 8 for baby boomers. (Photo: Johannes EISELE / AFP)

The openness underscores a growing trend toward increasing pay transparency, largely led by employees, and could help individuals boost their own paychecks.

“Having discussions can help you potentially earn more money,” said Jeremy Quittner, head of STASH's educational platform. “It can help you understand things that aren’t clear about your financial picture.”

Can you talk about your salary?

Discussing your salary with coworkers and friends is protected by law for most employees.

Private companies can’t prohibit employees from discussing salaries and compensation, thanks to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act. Some employers are excluded from the act, such as government employees, agriculture workers, independent contractors, and supervisors.

Employees of Smarkets work at their office in central London on March 12, 2018. Against a backdrop in Britain of gender pay gaps and ongoing disputes over executives' earnings, employees at one London company are helping each other set salaries. Betting firm Smarkets has adopted a radical pay transparency policy, through which staff can see colleagues' salaries and have pay rise requests endorsed by peers.  / AFP PHOTO / TOLGA AKMEN / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Rosie SCAMMELL        (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Ask A Manager published a public spreadsheet encouraging workers to share their salaries. It has garnered more than 33,000 entries so far. (AFP PHOTO / TOLGA AKMEN)

“Companies are striving to be more transparent with their practices,” said Amber Clayton, knowledge center director at SHRM, an association of human resources managers. “They’re providing pay ranges to applicants and employees, so that they're aware of what's the different pay ranges and positions they could potentially move into.”

Workers are also taking matters into their own hands.

In April, Ask A Manager published a public spreadsheet encouraging workers to share their salaries. So far, it’s garnered more than 33,000 entries. Another salary spreadsheet for media jobs popped up in November and was quickly populated by editors and reporters.

Should you talk money?

While it’s perfectly legal to talk about your compensation with your colleagues, career coaches disagree about how much you should share. Overall, it’s safe to disclose your salary anonymously on reputable websites, they said.

“This can help professionals who may not have a good benchmark for how much they should be getting paid,” said Avery Blank, a career and leadership strategist.

If you’re interested in insider salary data, ask someone who is in a position to give you useful information, such as a person who has a similar job as you or has been recently promoted. You can also ask someone who hires for roles like yours, though not necessarily your direct manager, said Alexandra Dickinson, founder and CEO of Ask For It, a negotiation training and coaching company.

Doubtful unconvinced african american hr manager talking to caucasian applicant at job interview feeling skeptic rejecting seeker skill, bad first impression, lack of experience or failed performance
When talking to your manager about your salary, don't compare yours to your coworker's. Instead, focus on your performance, experts say. (Photo: Getty Creative)

But consider how the conversation could affect your professional relationship with the person.

“If you found out someone was making dramatically more or less than you, it could change the way you work with that person,” Dickinson said. “It's worth thinking carefully about potential consequences before moving ahead.”

Once you have the inside salary information, focus pay discussions on you when speaking with your manager. You don’t want to compare your salary with what your co-worker earns – for both of your sakes.

“If you’re armed with privileged information about a colleague’s salary when negotiating with your boss for a pay increase, this could be interpreted as underhanded,” said Alex Twersky, co-founder of Resume Deli, a career services firm. “This could inadvertently get your colleague in hot water for allegedly providing it to you.”

Denitsa is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @denitsa_tsekova.

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